Collegiate eventer Michael Willham sent us his helmet cam video from his first Prelim run at Full Gallop Farm. Michael wrote the following blog about his run. Many thanks to Michael for the update, and thank you for reading!
Well, my fellow eventers, I did it. I made the jump from Training to Prelim last weekend at Full Gallop Farm’s Horse Trials in Aiken, SC while I was on my Spring Break. And let me tell you, it was SO MUCH FUN!
Now I know that many of you don’t have aspirations to make it to the Preliminary level and that’s absolutely fine. The only person who should care about what level you go is you. If you’re content and having a blast going at Beginner Novice or Novice, that is great! As for me, I don’t know how far I want to take this, but I definitely knew I wanted to at least go Prelim.
After going Training level all of last year, culminating in the Training 3 Day at the Kentucky Horse Park in October, I knew I was ready to make the move up this season. I am fortunate enough to be able to go down to Aiken and train with Phillip Dutton for two weeks over my Spring Break (I took an extra week off, you know, because: horses). I entered in two shows: Training at the first and the Prelim at the second show. I didn’t know exactly what cobwebs I would be dealing with after five months off from showing (and from being outside, darn Ohio weather).
I had prepared, prepared, and then prepared some more for this day. I have the utmost trust in my trainers, my preparation, and my horse. But no matter how much I could train for this, it was still nerve-wracking. It was only the second show of the year and I didn’t have anyone to coach me at the show or to walk the courses with me. In a strange way, I think I actually might ride better without my trainer, let me explain this seemingly outrageous statement…
Without my trainer, I take complete and total responsibility for figuring out how to ride the course, I don’t rely on being told what to do. Without my trainer, I, alone, am responsible for how I warm up.
Without my trainer, I have to employ all of my experience, all of my training, and all of my preparation without being told to do so.
Now I am not saying that I don’t value my trainer helping me at home or at shows, I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. But what I am saying is that it’s almost a sort of challenge that I have to step up to the plate, put up or shut up, go big or go home. As someone who always sets goals, is always tough on themselves, is always finding ways that I fell short and resolving to fix them, I like being challenged. And this challenge of riding without any guidance, especially moving up a level, is perhaps the biggest
challenge of them all.
Walking your first Prelim cross country course is definitely an eye-opening experience. First of all, it seemed as if everything was either a huge table or a skinny. I kept thinking “ride forward, don’t ride backwards to the jumps, keep the energy and he can jump it”. However, everything looked small once I was on Cayenne.
He is such a fantastic horse and he made all of those massive tables seem small.
Backtracking a little bit, we had a great test in the little white ring, despite it still being a little slick from the morning dew. Show jumping went great as well, going double clear over our first official Prelim stadium course. I didn’t want to know my dressage score or where I was placed though. It didn’t matter, I was just looking forward to cross country the next day. I wanted to go around clear. I wasn’t going to worry about making time, I didn’t want to sacrifice my riding and preparation for the jumps in pursuit of making time.
Cue the next day where we blaze around cross country like champs and end up coming in only 13 seconds over the Optimum Time on a course where nobody in the division made the time. I am so proud of my big, brown Irishman. It still hasn’t really sunk in fully yet, we’re a Prelim pair.
He got some huge hugs as we walked back. Tack off, sponging, studs out, hand walking, the works. It wasn’t until he was snuggled up in his box stall in the trailer with his ice boots on that I looked at the scores. We scored an amazing 24.6 in dressage, which put us in the lead. Coupled with our double clear show jumping and 5.2 time penalties out on cross country, we ended with a sub-30 final score and a first place finish at my first Prelim!
So my piece of advice, don’t let the absence of a trainer stop you from taking the leap of faith. If you’re ready for it, place trust in your preparation and go for it. This isn’t for everyone, we all still need our trainers, but there’s also a point in your training that you should be confident and capable enough to compete on your own every now and again, if you’re comfortable with that!
A big thank you to everyone who has made all of this possible! There’s too many to list. Without my parents, none of this would even be remotely possible. And thank you to my sponsor, Nutrena, who keeps my horse fueled up and ready to go.